We recently spoke with two powerful women tech CEOs about sexism and what they did to overcome it: DataGravity cofounder Paula Long, known for her previous storage startup, EqualLogic, which Dell bought for $1.4 billion in 2008; and former Zynga CIO Debra Chrapaty, who just became CEO of Nirvanix.
Both of them tell Business Insider they have faced their share of sexism. Now they coach other young women how to get past it. Some of this is good advice for men, too.
1. If you’re the only woman in the room, jokingly make the room aware.
“Some of the issues with [sexism] in tech is just the numbers,” Chrapty says. “I’ve sat in rooms for most of my career where I’m the only woman. I make light of it. I intentionally put it out there.”
2. If your coworkers tend to yell at meetings, bring an empty coffee cup with you. Tap it on the table to cause the room to grow quiet before you speak. That’s a tip Chrapaty learned from her mentor, former Microsoft CMO, Mich Mathews.
3. Being a risk-taker has nothing to do with being male or female. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The more your risks prove successful, the more willing you are to take risks. You have to be willing to take risks to advance your career, Long says.
4. Don’t be afraid of failing. You will learn more from failure than successes, says Chrapaty. She worked on a couple of startups that didn’t pan out. That’s when she learned how to be a leader. “It’s easy to motivate people when the company is soaring,” but it requires skill to motivate people when it’s not doing well, she says.
5. If you can’t find a job you love, start your own company, Long says. “If you want to become a CEO of a big company, roll your own. You can build that big company.”
6. Negotiate a fair wage. Talk to people and read salary reports to find out what the norms are, ask for something in the fair range, not too high, not too low, Long says. Expect to be fairly compensated and you will be.
6. Always do the best work you can. “The best way to battle any bias is to be the best you can be in your field. Be the best. Make that your rallying cry,” Chrapaty says.
7. Have a thick skin if some of your male coworkers underestimate you. One stereotype for women techies is that they don’t work on hard tech problems, Long says. Solving those hard problems will change their minds.
8. Be a role model and mentor to other women. The sexism problem will diminish when more women are working in the field. Role models encourage girls to enter the field, both Long and Chrapaty say.
9. Report sexual harassment. There’s a difference between someone giving you a “prove it” attitude and someone threatening you.
“If it’s a pure case of sexual harassment (and that’s happened to me but I won’t talk about it), you report it,” Chrapaty says. “That’s your obligation to the company and to other women. If it’s a case of sexism, be the best you can be and continue to make your mark in industry.”
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